Ian Morris

Ian Morris

Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels

Festival of Ideas/
Wed 16 March 2016

Ian Morris

Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels

Ian Morris
Wed 16 March 2016,

THIS EVENT IS NOW FULL. You are welcome to arrive 5 minutes before start and queue for empty seats.

Most people in the world today think democracy and gender equality are good, and that violence and wealth inequality are bad. But most people who lived during the 10,000 years before the nineteenth century thought just the opposite. Drawing on archaeology, anthropology, biology, and history, bestselling author Ian Morris explains why, presenting a compelling new argument about the evolution of human values, one that has far-reaching implications for how we understand the past – and for what might happen next.

Morris argues that fundamental long-term changes in values are driven by the most basic force of all: energy. Humans have found three main ways to get the energy they need – from foraging, farming, and fossil fuels. Each energy source sets strict limits on what kinds of societies can succeed, and each kind of society rewards specific values. In tiny forager bands, people who value equality but are ready to settle problems violently do better than those who aren’t; in large farming societies, people who value hierarchy and are less willing to use violence do best; and in huge fossil-fuel societies, the pendulum has swung back toward equality but even further away from violence.

But if our fossil-fuel world favours democratic, open societies, the on-going revolution in energy capture means that our most cherished values are very likely to turn out – at some point fairly soon – not to be useful any more.

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